:: Friday, 3 January 2003 ::
There is a jumbo piece in today's Fin Review (probably need to register but it is worth it).
The piece, titled "Idealogy and the Threat to the Arts" is written by John McDonald, who reveals himself to be a blinkered arts imbecile of the highest order. The piece has everything. Every idiotic attitude and position taken by the arts community.
One guess how he opens the piece. With a quote from Keating, natch. Erm, it is 2003. Keating has been writing angry letters about architecture to the SMH since he resoundingly lost the Prime Ministership in 1996. You do the math on how long ago it was.
Anyway, the piece is so shot full of idiocy it should be enjoyed in full. But I will excerpt some choice cuts of dumb as a taster:
In October 1994, Paul Keating launched his government's cultural policy statement, Creative Nation, with these words: "We emphatically believe that cultural issues should be at the core. ..." Although Creative Nation was widely derided at the time, it is worth considering the distance we have travelled since that moment. As the Howard Government undertakes a confidential review of cultural organisations, and a well-performed museum director is dumped for no good reason, it would seem that the arts are about to enter a kind of nuclear winter. The arts could no longer be said to be at "the core" of Australian life - not even in the wildest flights of political rhetoric. They have been relegated once more to the margins as the domain of the despised "elites" and the chattering classes. Under John Howard, Australian culture has grown more insular and shallow. The arts are not the litmus test of a mature country, they are a mere diversion from more pressing concerns such as the drought, border protection, the threat of terrorism and an impending war in Iraq.
Relegated? Imbecile. The arts have not and never will be the 'core' of this country. And Keating saying they were the 'core' was nothing more than keeping his loyal troupe of wankers sweet. I maintain the Keating era was embarrassing all round for Oz. When the 'arts community' in a democratic peaceful nation roundly supports the government of the day, as they always do under Labor, but most pathetically under Keating, then you can be sure the 'art' will be irrelevant, poor quality and only arts wankers will give two shits about it.
Let us continue with McDonald:
It is only during the last month that we have heard of the government's "efficiency review" of cultural organisations. In response to questions in the media and in parliament, Senator Alston finally acknowledged the existence of the review, but was vague as to its details or motivations. "You need to be sure that you are getting the box office results," he blustered to the ABC. "You need to make sure that you are getting people through the door. You need to make sure that the population appreciate what's on offer."
If this sounds suspiciously like a recipe for economic rationalism being applied to the arts, the senator also spoke about taking the judgements of the critics into account. But which critics? Only the critics that say what the government wants to hear, if past experience is any indicator. Well into a third term, with financial pressures mounting, it seems as though the government has decided to stop mollycoddling the cultural institutions. The kind of "critics" to whom it responds most readily are those such as the PM's biographer, David Barnett, whose tenure as a member of the board of the National Museum of Australia, has marked him out as a relentless critic of the museum's displays and policies.
Look at the language. 'Blustered'. 'Suspiciously'. ''Critics' in quotation marks. Please. When it is a Liberal government it is allll baaad.
And just what is wrong with punters liking art and going to art exhibitions and museums and paying to enter, and picking up some merchandise, and eating at the caf, eh? Punters in large numbers like really good art. Punters in small numbers like art that is not as as good as the capital G good art (and do not get stupid here - some art is objectively great - Old Masters, right? Right.) but which is good nevertheless, like good Oz art. And wankers prefer their art is small galleries, or big empty ones without all the punters, and preferrably without any actual art - but more moudling, building, stacking crap.
Dawn Casey, the [National]museum's inaugural director, has been informed that her contract will be renewed for only one year - making a mockery of the original appointment of an Aboriginal woman to this prestigious post. Since Casey has been a consummate diplomat from the day the museum opened, and has won the respect of the media and her staff, her treatment seems particularly shabby.
A mockery? Continually renewing her contract just because she is a nice Aboriginal, John. That would be a mockery.
What this suggests is that the government's attitude towards cultural institutions is not merely coloured by economics, it is ideologically-motivated. It is not simply a matter of arguing that those who enjoy the arts should pay for them. This user-pays approach - the reductio ad absurdum of economic rationalism - would mean the closure of most cultural organisations. The Australian Opera and ballet, not to mention the galleries and museums, cannot devote themselves solely to the pursuit of profit. Neither can they expect to attract the audiences commanded by Hollywood movies and major sporting events. (The idea that more Australians go to art galleries than sporting contests is surely the biggest furphy ever perpetrated by the statisticians).
No government would go to the extremes of the user-pays approach, but there is certainly a new conviction that if the government pays for cultural initiatives, they should reflect views and opinions congenial to the government. This entails a more celebratory attitude towards Australian history and identity. In other words: replacing the perceived propaganda of "black armband" history, with the healthy, positive propaganda demanded by our duly-elected government. It is exactly the approach once favoured by the dictators of the "Peoples Democracies" behind the Iron Curtain and in Asia. The only difference is that the local approach depends on the apathy of the general public, not force of arms. Suspected dissidents are not imprisoned or put into show trials, they simply fail to have their contracts renewed.
Really, what can you say. Can you feel the anger? Australians are idiots who do not like art and opera enough. The government is manipulating the idiots. John Howard is remaking Oz because Australians are all too stupid to realise what is going on. Only the ride of the arts wankery can save us all from becoming a despotic hellhole. What an idiot, eh?
The black armband history is not perceived propaganda. It is propaganda. The language - that is the thing. Read this McDonald jerk. All cassandra, end of the world rubbish. No measure, no balance. Labor good. Liberal bad. Bad bad bad. Waaah.
The result is a dulling of Australian culture and the creation of a climate of overwhelming conformity... The threat of terrorism has hurt attendances at museums and performances across the world...Neither can we expect business to pick up the slack... It would be futile to expect much political opposition to any changes in cultural policy. The Democrats have undermined themselves as a political force, and the ALP shows an almost complete indifference to cultural matters. Carmen Lawrence's parting shot in her break with the Labor leadership, was that Howard has "diminished us all". For confirmation she need only look to her own former shadow portfolio of the Arts, which has lost all the prestige it enjoyed under Keating. As the ALP has grown less distinguishable from the Coalition it has abandoned the "big picture" issues such as culture. That kind of idealism now seems at odds with the small-world political pragmatism of Simon Crean's party....Culture in Australia has never been an evolutionary process - it is an ebb and flow, a shaky line on the seismograph that is now plunging downwards. If culture constructs our national identity, we are in danger of becoming a nation of sheep.
A nation of overwhelming conformity? Sheep? Has this dickhead read the census figures? Wogs, mate. No conformity between me and my Italian neighbour, okay, much less between me and you.
Skippies like John McDonald are the problem. They have an ideology which is 100% Keatingesque on wheels, except with even more taxpayer dollars. They do not address the failings of their arts, artists, art institutiuons. They cannot accept that a lot of what is produced is insulting as well as poorly executed. They decry economics, as if art should be subsidised without question with my money and yours. And they cannot tolerate a single bit of pressure - none. As soon as the pressure comes, the squealing starts. The whining.
He is sure right that ideology is a threat to the arts. The ideology that paying for art is a government responsibility, art and artists should enjoy the payment without any cares at all, and culture is a trickle down thing that somes from John McDonald to the teeny idiot people.
There is more art in my father's tiny flat than there is in John McDonalds gargantuan tax dollar spending 'big picture' vision.
:: WB 6:35 pm [link+] ::